Phase 1 Plyo’s

“We must learn to jump off the ground and properly land on the ground before we attempt to minimize the time spent on the ground.” – Mike Boyle

A key component to developing a more resilient and durable athlete is having a well planned out and well progressed plyometric program that teaches the athlete both jumping and landing mechanics. Before we get fancy we need to learn how to absorb force in stable landing positions, both linear, lateral, on one leg and on two legs.

This is exactly what our second phase of plyo’s are about; the ability to absorb force. We now jump over and obstacle (instead of landing on a box) while landing in a stabile position. Adding the acceleration of landing on the ground instead of a box increases the eccentric component which is critical to injury prevention.

Random Thoughts: March Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. The trunk stability push up (TSPU) or anti-extension strength/stability is huge in female populations. There is actually some research showing that a poor TSPU has the strongest correlation to ACL tears then any other screen in the FMS. The TSPU can help tell you if an athlete is able to control spinal stability under load. If it can’t bad things are potentially going happen.
2. Corrective exercise should change movement immediately. If it doesn’t it probably isn’t ever going to.

3. Strength training is all about balance. Do you have balance between hip dominant and knee dominant exercises? Do you have balance between your upper body pushing and pulling? Do you have balance within these categories? For example, if you are training an athlete three days a week, I think its important for shoulder health to press vertically (OH Press variation), horizontally (bench press/push up, etc.), and somewhere between the two (incline press, landmine press, etc.). Focusing on one more then the others will probably lead to issues in the long run.

4. A good strength coach should be able to modify any movement/exercise in the weight room and make it non-painful.

5. Athletes need to move in three planes more often as we speed way to much time training in the sagittal plane. It’s not only great for hip mobility and injury prevention, but moving in all three planes is great for neuromuscular input – it’s like candy for the brain.

6. If you can’t do something well in the weight room but yet continue to do it anyway, you are eventually going to get hurt. It’s really that black and white. Regress and/or lateralize.

7. In strength and conditioning, if you wait for the research to prove to you that something is right, you’ll be way behind. Follow smart people, find the commonalities in what they are doing, and steal it.

8. When you keep things simple in the weight room I think you can actually get more done and get more quality work done.

9. To use the previous thought as a jumping off point, I’m not sure many athletes really need much more then basic movements. If you simply change the intensity and volume over the course of time I think you’ll find that most athletes are going to progress at a very good pace over their athletic career.

10. Very few people really actually want to get better and are open minded…they just want information that confirms what they are already doing is correct. These same people pretend they want to get better, but they don’t really want to hear the truth. These same people claim they are open minded until they find out everything they are doing is wrong.

Slide Board Conditioning

Slide Board conditioning is pretty standard in the sport of hockey but relatively rare in other sports. But should it be?

The Slide Board offers a host of benefits that any athlete would greatly benefit from. A handful of benefits would be;

1. It’s standing. Sports are played standing, not sitting on something like a bike.

2. It is performed in what looks like the general ‘athletic’ position with the knees bent and hips flexed position. Basically every sport spends time in this position.

3. It’s gets athletes moving laterally/in the frontal plane. We spend so much of our time going straight ahead and a huge amount of strength training is done in a linear movement pattern. However, much of sport is played in the frontal plane. Basketball is the perfect example of a sport that has a huge lateral component (think defense) and would benefit greatly from the Slide Board.
4. It allows the athlete to work both the abductors and adductors in a functional pattern. Would simply adding Slide Board conditioning prevent some of the groin injuries seen so often in pre-season camps?

5. The athletes feet never leave the ground. Sports like basketball and volleyball require a lot of jumping and landing even in the off-season when they are playing pick up games, spring practices, and spring tournaments. The Slide Board offers a great conditioning alternative to still work energy system development without adding considerably more stress on the athletes body like we would see with sprinting.

6. It’s hard. Anyone who doesn’t think the Slide Board is a legit conditioning workout hasn’t ever done it. Try 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for a set a 10 and get back to me – you’ll have a new found respect for the Slide Board.

7. Lastly, the Slide Board trains the muscles that are directly involved in change of direction. Along with a well thought out strength program, could the Slide Board be beneficial in change of direction speed development and injury prevention?

Long story short – any and every athlete could and would benefit from conditioning on the Slide Board.

Accommodating Resistance

Chains and other forms off accommodating resistance can be used for more then just speed work. The most important thing is stressing movement patterns and chasing the adaptation, not necessarily the specific exercise you chose.

In this case the instability of the chains add a shoulder stability component that stresses the rotator cuff in a way that regular bench press won’t. Plus it’s a nice change a pace and challenge for athletes.

Shown is 100 w/ 32lbs of chains.

1-Leg Hang Clean?

“The most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way.” – Grace Hopper

Hockey, more specifically the skating stride, is essentially a single leg sport/movement. As a result, we tend to think 1-leg plyo’s are important/beneficial. We tend to think 1-leg strength exercises are important/beneficial. So why wouldn’t we think that 1-leg Olympic lifts are important/beneficial?

Yes, we do appear to not get as much triple extension when compared to traditional 2-leg hang cleans, but is the point of Olympic lifting to create full hip extension or to create the power to move a load at a high rate of speed? Though both are important, I’d argue it’s more important to create the power to move a load at a high rate of speed.

Additionally, I’d argue that there are also many added benefits to the 1-leg clean that you don’t get with a traditional 2-leg clean, like;

✅ Uni-lateral power production
✅ Uni-lateral lower body force absorption when landing in one leg
✅ Uni-lateral core force absorption when landing on one leg
✅ Potential increase in the rate of force production

Don’t be afraid to think differently. Following the herd often just leads to the slaughter house.

Random Thoughts: February Edition

Here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. Athletes need to learn how to land before you worry about learning how to jump.

2. Just because an exercise doesn’t elicit pain it doesn’t mean it isn’t causing an issue. Great examples of this would be traditional bench press with an overhead athlete or bilateral squatting with a hockey player (hockey players are highly likely to have FAI issues).

3. Piggybacking off the previous thought, I don’t see any reason to do a lot of traditional pressing movements with overhead athletes. Kettlebell Bottoms Up Presses, Landmine Presses, various dumbbell movements and Push Ups can get the job done and are considerably safer.

4. For a long while I have been a big fan of the barbell bridge as I thought it was a great way to train hip extension in a dummy-proof way. I think I was wrong. If done correctly I think the barbell bridge is a good movement, but I think far too many people turn it into a lumbar extension pattern instead of a glute/hip extension pattern. From personal experience, I would always get a little bit of low back pain the days following using the movement and I could never figure out why. I think elevating the shoulders and performing 1-leg bridges loaded with chains/sanbags/whatever else you have at your disposal is a better bet.

5. Everything done in the weight room needs to be purposeful. As a field we spend way too much time doing things that don’t really make a bit of difference to sport performance or injury prevention.

6. Most of the athletes we coach don’t need anything more then the basic movements. They may be elite athletes, but generally speaking they aren’t elite lifters.

7. I think heavy bilateral lifting is great for straight ahead and vertical force production but isn’t great for any type of change of direction. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying I don’t think the end-all be-all that people want to make it out to be. Absorbing force and creating force on one leg in the frontal plane just isn’t the same as absorbing force and creating force on two legs in the sagittal plane. Eric Cressey preaches that power is plane specific and as usual, I think he’s probably right.

8. The most important muscle to the core is the diaphragm. It has a huge effect on movement and plays a key role in stabilizing the spine amongst many other things. I think adding some sort of diaphragmatic breathing to all training sessions is becoming close to non-negotiable.

9. I think it’s critical that athletes need to be strong relative to their own bodyweight. And I think the two best and simplest indicators of this are chin ups and vertical jump. I’m willing to be there is a strong correlation between a teams best performers at their sport and their ability to perform chin ups.

10. People don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

The New KISS Principle

“KISS. Keep It Simple & Safe.” – Joe Kenn, Strength Coach, Carolina Panthers

As a strength coach you should ask yourself one simple question; what is the best exercise(s) to SAFELY get the adaptation that you are after? Whatever the answer is, do that.

For many of the athletes I work with it’s very simple and there is always a reason for the things that we do or don’t do. There is a ‘why’ for everything that we do. Our ‘whys’ also change depending on who we are working with. Training an overhead athlete is different from training a hockey player. Additionally, depending on the time of the year and the injury trends and demands that a specific sport we might change what we do. The ‘what’ part of our ‘why’ changes at this point.

“Don’t fit athletes into programs, fit programs to athletes.” – Eric Cressey

We also choose exercise/movements that train the quality we want, trying to get the biggest return on investment as we can without burying an athlete. This is especially true during the in-season period. Charlie Weingroff wrote something along these lines called The Concept of Lowest System Load. Essentially, Charlie advises to pick movements that train the adaptation that you are after while keeping the stress to the system as minimal as possible, if you can.

“The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.” – Gray Cook

A few real world examples of this;

For our volleyball team the majority of our lower body work revolves around a handful of lifts. Without a doubt the Dead Lift is the lower body lift that we will push the most from a strength perspective. Yes, we focus more on the dead lift then we do the squat. For starters, many overhead athletes don’t have the requisite shoulder mobility to place a bar on their back. Second, if you analyze the dead lift what you will see is a bilateral hip hinge. Sport = hip hinging. If you ask an athlete to show you their best vertical or broad jump but stop them in the bottom of the movement before they actually jump, you will see a perfect hip hinge 99% of the time. Another benefit to dead lifting is that it demands the athlete be strong in their upper back and works on grip strength, something that an overhead athlete like a volleyball player will benefit from. Additionally, the Trap Bar has the lower barrier of entry when compared to a bilateral squat or a straight bar dead lift. We train the adaptation we are after, in a simple and safe way.

Women’s Hockey
In the off-season the RFE Split Squat is our biggest lower body lift with women’s hockey. However, once we reach the in-season we slowly get away from the movement as it demands a high degree of hip flexion. Deep hip flexion is something that many hockey players don’t handle well especially in-season when skating has picked up due to FAI issues. Even if RFE Split Squat is something that the athlete can handle during the in-season period, it’s a very demanding lift that can really chew someone up. At this point we will toss the RFESS out and focus more on 1-Leg Squats, Split Squats, Dead Lifting. These exercises the require much less hip flexion to perform properly and as a result are much more user friendly for a hockey player in-season.

The moral of the story is this; remember what is really important and how you can be the biggest asset to your teams/athletes as possible. The number one reason athletes come to the weight room is to develop physically in order to reduce the potential for injuries – and no one should ever get hurt in the weight room.

“Getting hurt training to not get hurt is as stupid as it sounds.” – Mike Boyle

Yes, there are certain qualities that we as strength coaches and sport performance coaches need to develop in our athletes. It is our job to not only help to develop strong athletes that are able to perform well on the field/court/ice, but our job is to build resilient athletes that can withstand the rigors of their sport. Because of this, we need to pick exercises/movements that will not only train the quality that we are trying to develop, but pick exercises/movements that will develop these qualities in the safest manner possible. The best teams at the end of the year are usually teams that have their best players playing.

3 Keys to Hamstring Health

There is no question that hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries seen in athletes. While a hamstring strain is not nearly as severe as a torn ACL from a rehabilitation and loss of playing time standpoint, the recovery can and will still take several weeks which could lead to an athlete missing a large portion of their competitive season.

Before we go any further, it should be noted that the greatest number of hamstring injuries occur in the pre-season period with all the running and training the team is doing, which is typically simply too much, too soon for most athletes. The problem is this is a period that is crucial for both player and team development. Proper progressions in both the amount of running and the type of conditioning leading into the pre-season period can go a log way to avoiding many of these hamstring issues.

To further complicate the problem, the re-injure rate for hamstring injuries in athletes is very high. When the number one predictor of future injury is previous injury you have to call our means of rehabilitation into question.

The good news is hamstring issue can be avoided with proper progressions and training. The bad news is they don’t seem to be avoided in most programs.

With that said, here are what I feel are a few of biggest issues that we as strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches need to focus on to keep the hamstrings of athletes healthy and allow the athlete to stay on the field all season. I can confidently say that these things are important because I have seen them work firsthand. In this part competitive season, the teams that I personally work with and program for had a total of zero games missed due to a hamstring strain and we followed these principles throughout both our off-season leading into their competitive seasons and during the in-season period.

1. Proper Plyometric Training
Nothing earth shattering but something that seems to be overlooked and put on the backburner when it comes to programming. Just like anything else, plyometric training should be specific and well thought out yet often times I don’t feel that it is.

As an industry it is clear that we do a great job making athletes more powerful, but what we do a terrible job is making athletes more resilient. We give athletes huge accelerators and terrible brakes. Our plyometric program and less concerned with making athletes more powerful and more concerned with teaching athletes how to land properly and controlled deceleration. Controlling deceleration is going to go a long way in keep athletes healthy – most injuries occur in deceleration.

When it comes to the actual plyometric training, I stick with the KISS principle. We start off by jumping on to something with a stable landing. Move to jumping over something with a stable landing. Once we can land stably we then jump over something with a bounce. Finally, move to a traditional explosive plyometric.

Additionally, it’s important to jump in various planes/directions. Depending on the day, we will typically perform either a bilateral hurdle jump, a 1-leg hurdle hop, a 1-leg medial/lateral hurdle hop, and a lateral bound.

As an example would be a 1-leg linear hurdle hop progression. Phase 1 = to a box. Phase 2 = over an object. Phase 3 = over an object with a mini bounce. Phase 4 = continuous. The same progression holds true for our other various plyometrics.

2. Picking the Correct Exercises
To me, this may be the most important aspect from a training standpoint when it comes to avoiding hamstring issues. Running is a single leg movement. Running, in the simplest sense, is a result of bounding from one leg to other. Soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse and most other sports are essentially sports that are played on one leg.

For example, striking a soccer ball is a single leg movement, as the athlete plants one leg while the trail leg follows through and strikes the ball, resulting in a massive amount of eccentric hamstring strength in the plant leg, which is why its important to learn to absorb force eccentrically through a plyometric program. Furthermore, cutting, jumping, and decelerating are all single leg movements and essential to the success of an athlete but also commonly when hamstring injuries occur.

With this in mind, in my opinion all athletes need to be trained in a single leg stance the majority of the time. Exercises like the 1-leg RDL, 1-leg hip lift, and slideboard/Valslide hamstring curl need to be included and make up the majority, if not all of the athletes glute/hamstring training protocol. All the bilateral squatting and RDL’s in the world aren’t going to fix the hamstring issue. Simply learning to apply large amounts force in a bilateral stance in the sagittal plane is far from functional for an athlete.

If you still don’t completely buy into these exercises it may help to understand why we would include them in the program. For starters, the hamstrings work to extend the hip in a single leg stance in conjunction with the glute max and adductor magnus. The single leg RDL requires the athlete to extend the hip in a single leg stance in conjunction with the glutes and adductors. Pretty sport specific if you ask me.

Additionally, the hamstrings are asked to act eccentrically during sprinting. The hamstring is essentially what slows you down and stabilizes your knee during sprinting, cutting, jumping and other athletic movements. The slideboard/Valslide leg curl is one of the best exercises when it comes to developing eccentric strength.

3. A Progression Based Program
As with any solid program, hamstring injury reduction focused or not, there needs to be a progression. Far too often athletes are asked to do more then they are capable of doing in the present time leading to an injury. In most cases, it’s a simple case of too much, too soon and no one is to blame except the strength coach and/or the sport coach.

A simple and effective Single Leg RDL progression would look something like this;
• Reaching 1-Leg RDL
• 1DB 1-Leg RDL
• 2DB 1-Leg RDL
• Barbell 1-Leg RDL

And for the slideboard/Valslide Leg Curl Progression;
• Barbell Bridge
• Eccentric (bridging) leg curl
• Traditional leg curl
• Weighted leg curl

These are just a few of what I would consider the most important aspects of keeping the hamstrings of athletes healthy. Hopefully some of this will allow you to re-assess your own programming to make it better and keep your athletes healthier.

Random Thoughts: January Edition

1. Corrective exercise is the icing on the cake, not the actual cake. Various mobility and stability drills are great and they are needed in a lot of cases, but they aren’t as important as the big/core fundamental movements. Getting strong is still the best corrective out there. If the big/core fundamental movements you are using are the right movements, a lot of the corrective stuff will take care of itself. Focus on the big stuff.

2. Crawling, more specifically bear crawls, are underrated yet huge when it comes to shoulder health. Do more of them.

3. If you want to be the best and continually raise the bar you are going to ruffle some feathers along the way. Do it anyway. Maintaining the status quo simply breeds mediocrity.

4. Our number one goal as strength coaches is to keep our athletes healthy. Athletes can’t perform when they are injured. Athletes can’t make progress when they are injured.

5. To piggyback off the previous thought, the goal of strength and conditioning is not to bench and squat a ton of weight. The goal of strength and conditioning is to develop athletes that are durable and can handle the rigors of their sport while improving sport performance. If a teams best players are playing all year there is a good chance the team is going to be successful.

6. Dr. Andreo Spina’s 90/90 Hip External Rotation/Internal Rotation stretch is awesome if you are someone that works with larger group. We know a lack of hip internal rotation is a major cause in low back pain. We know a lack of hip internal rotation is common with most people. There are also very few hip internal rotation stretches that can be done in a group setting. The stretch makes the cut almost every single session with my groups.

7. Culture is everything and should be the biggest thing you are trying to develop as a leader of a strength program.

8. Strength coaches get so caught up on numbers and how “strong” an athlete is. I am a firm believer that athletes need to be strong/powerful relative to their own body weight – and I think chin ups and vertical jump might be the best indicators of relative strength/power.

9. Not everyone should be performing every single lift the same exact way. Biomechanics matter.

10. After spending close to a year working with volleyball and trying to learn as much as I can about the shoulder, I have reached the conclusion that the shoulder much more complex then people realize. The more I learn about the shoulder the more questions I have – it’s actually kind of exciting.

1-Leg Linear Hurdle Hop Progression

The goal of our ‘plyometric’ program is to first teach the athlete jumping and landing skills before we progress to what most people would consider true plyometrics. We prioritize eccentric stability before we worry about power develop ➡️ we prioritize injury prevention over performance.

Phase One: To A Box

The first emphasis is learning to land, absorbing force with your muscles instead of your joints. Learning to land and eccentrically stabilize yourself is critical when reducing potential injuries.

Phase Two: Over Hurdle with a Stick

Hops over a hurdle now adds gravity to the equation making the eccentric demand more challenging as the body gains acceleration on the way down.

Phase Three: Over Hurdle with a Mini-Bounce

Adding a mini-bounce now places an emphasis on switching from a stable eccentric landing to a more explosive concentric action. This also begins to prep an athlete for a continuous hurdle hop.

Phase Four: Continuous Over Hurdle

Finally we perform what looks like more of a traditional plyometric. The athlete now tries to minimize the time spent on the ground, training the more explosive and elastic qualities.